Travel has changed a lot since I began to roam around the world back in the 1990’s. For one thing, the internet was new back then. Most businesses didn’t have websites, there were no blogs to speak of, and certainly there was no Facebook, or Trip Adviser.
Even the things we looked for in a hotel, guest house, or hostel were different back then. To find a hostel we could look in a Lonely Planet (if there was one for that country or region) or more likely we would pay to get a Youth Hostel Association membership and then go to the hostels they had listed in their book. Yes, in their book. No kindles, no laptops on the road, no pdfs, or websites.
These days, finding a hostel is easy. You can simply search for hostel and the city name and a list will come up.
Even better though is that you can come to Vagobond and see if we have a personal recommendation for a hostel. For example, if you are heading to Seoul, South Korea and you want to stay in a friendly, clean, safe, and centrally located hostel. I fully recommend that you stay in the Kimchi Hongdai Hostel.
This is another hostel that I found through my social network. I made contact with the owner, David who opened the hostel just a few weeks before I visited. David is a Canadian of Korean descent who has come back to Korea where he and his brother are running a couple of hostels based on their successful guesthouse in Vancouver, Canada.
I’ve said it before, but the key to a great hostel is to have a great owner who is involved, hires a great staff, and interacts with the guests. Actually, it’s the key to having any great business from hotels to blogs. David is a great example.
It’s easy to see that his number one passion is making friends with the many guests he hosts. He doesn’t do this in an intrusive way, but in an inclusive way, such as organizing outings and if he sees someone asking them if they want to come along. He’s also readily available for offering tips of where to go and what to do. His staff, Jun and Steven are also both the same way.
Kimchi hostel is new and developing in all the right ways. I stayed in both the mixed dorms and in a a private room. There is wifi throughout and the signal is strong on all floors. There are plenty of bathrooms, showers with hot water which are kept clean and tidy, and the lots of slippers to make the typical Korean ‘leave your shoes at the door’ policy comfortable.
There is a small TV area, free computers for guests without laptops to surf the net, a washer and dryer (coin operated), a small kitchen, and free tea, coffee, and water available all day. My only complaints (and this is a new hostel, so it’s possible these things will have changed by the time you get there) were that there was no free breakfast and in fact, not really any decent place to take your meals aside from the TV room. David told me that the hostel is expanding into some neighboring apartments, so I’m sure there will be more space in the future. Probably, the computers and reception will move out of the kitchen and some tables and chairs will move in.
The Kimchi Hostel was five minutes from the subway and David’s directions were crystal clear. I arrived at around 11pm and had no problems finding it.
This was a quiet, clean, newly furnished, friendly, and centrally located place. There are convenience stores very nearby along with banks, ATMs, tons of cafes and bars, easy access to the airport by bus or subway within 5 minutes walking, the popular Hongdae clubbing area five minutes away, plus movie theatres, parks, and the many universities located nearby. No extra charge for towels, linens, or wifi and a great staff with plenty of information. In addition there are guidebooks available for those who don’t have one to use.
Kimchi Hostel gets my highest recommendation. Great job David! Thanks.
2011 was a great year for me in terms of travel, family, and work. While this was yet another year that I didn’t make it home to Hawaii or the USA, it was certainly a busy year. While there were a huge number of experiences to choose from, here are my top ten favorite adventures that came from this incredible year. I’m hoping that the coming year 2021, will be another one to remember.
1) Sailing in Greece was the highlight of my year. The food, the boat, the swimming. It just doesn’t get much better than that.
2) Camel Wrestling in Selcuk, Turkey was one of those oddities that while not being the coolest thing of the year, was certainly one that will never leave me.
3) Jingabongs in South Korea are my favorite discovery of 2011. Who knew that Korean bathhouses would be so awesome?
4) Hitching to the DMZ and seeing North Korea for the first time was one of those adventures that I used to read about and dream of doing.
5) Whiskey in Montmarte, Paris. Can there really be much better than carousing with strangers, drinking whiskey in the streets, and finding great hole in the wall jazz bars? Only if you do it in Paris.
8) Istanbul walks were among my favorite travel moments of 2011. Having the chance to live in Istanbul and simply take huge meandering walks in the many neighborhoods including ferry rides, trams, and more. Yes, I miss Istanbul.
I knew that I wanted to see more of South Korea than Seoul and following a random tip from a random American expat I met on the metro, I decided to head to Sokcho. I had asked the girl, who was teaching English in Seoul, where she recommended I go for a day trip. Not only did she recommend going to Sokcho, but she told me it was her favorite place in South Korea and recommended the very cool hostel/hotel I ended up staying in.
Sokcho isn’t a big place. It’s a couple of hours from Seoul by bus and when the bus is coming in you will be astounded by the gorgeous mountain scenery of the place and then if you are clueless as to what to expect (as I was) you will be very surprised to descend quickly to the Sea of Japan. Sokcho is located in Gangwon province and has a population of about 84,000. Despite this relatively small size, however, the city sprawls out for a fair distance in seemingly all directions. In the summer months it is a favorite holiday destination for people from Seoul, but in the winter it is a blissfully empty place.
In addition to the Sea of Japan and the very nice beaches in Sokcho, there are a couple of other draws that bring people. One is Seoraksan National Park and the other is the extreme proximity of Sokcho to the DMZ between North Korea and South Korea.
Arriving in Sokcho, I had no idea where the The House Hostel was located in relation to the bus station and since the weather was nice, I decided to walk. Not knowing at this point the sprawling size of Sokcho, I got extremely lucky and picked the right direction to head. I walked along the beach enjoying the snow on the sands and the many odd fish sculptures along the sea shore. It turns out that Sokcho is quite well known as a place for fresh fish.
Leaving the beach, I walked towards a large iron bridge and noted the thousands of fish drying on the roofs of nearly every house I passed. When I see a big bridge like that, I know that I should walk across it. So, that’s what I did and I found myself in the most interesting little warren of streets and fish shops I had yet seen in South Korea. There was something very different about this place but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Later, I was to find out that the island village I’d come to is called Abai and that it is populated almost exclusively by expats from North Korea who had escaped from Kim Jong Il’s insane country. Abai was the setting for a popular Korean TV drama called “Autumn in My Heart.”
While I was happy to be seeing this very interesting place and still wondering why it was different, I wanted to find The House Hostel and realized it was not on this little odd island. After about an hour of wondering around (thankfully I travel with just my satchel and it isn’t very heavy), I found that there were three ways to leave Abai 1) take a boat to somewhere 2) walk back across the bridge (I hate backtracking) or 3) take the very cool hand drawn ferry boat back to the mainland. You can easily guess which option I chose.
The ferry man used a metal hook and a cable to pull the boat across and as I stood watching he motioned for me to grab a hook and help him out. I was more than happy to work side by side with this North Korean ferry man to reach my destination. The cost of the ferry was 500 won, about half a Euro.
One other note about Abai is that it is famous for something called the Abai Sundae. Don’t expect ice cream though, it’s made of squid intestines, pig blood, kimchi and other things I chose not to eat, but the girl who recommended Sokcho told me it was one of the most delicious things in South Korea. In this case, I chose to avoid not take her advice.
And then there’s the fact that I love trains. A subway is, after all, a train. So, maybe that’s a part of it too.If you want a bit of help getting around you might want to get Frommers Seoul By Day Guide
All I know is that from the moment I went down to the subway at Incheon, I knew that I was experiencing something awesome. Down, down, down and then not just a city commute but a commute from another city in a mostly underground tunnel with a super cool system of giving a card but charging a deposit of 500 won and then returning the deposit when you arrive at your destination.
As you go down to the subways in Seoul, you go down these massive escalators and truly burrow into the bowels of the earth. The thing is, you find more than just trains down there. At Seoul Station you find an underground museum and at Gyeongbokgong you find a massive underground complex of culture – and at Namdaemun and Dongdaemun there are actually two underground shopping areas- one with bargain shops and one with modern luxury goods…and let me just say, both areas are far bigger than any walmart. I’m not talking about some little caves with shops in them or even big tunnels, I’m talking about an entire city that exists underneath Seoul.
Here are just a few of the things I experienced underground in Seoul —
restaurants,bathhouses (Jingjaebongs), movie theaters, book stores, swap meets, museuems, bars, karaoke, barber shops, and dentists.
I don’t want to mislead you- there are plenty of things above ground in Seoul and the high rises are filled with beautiful examples of modern architecture, ultra modern shopping malls, and ultra modern museums, and more than a few incredible Seoul Hotels . But there is just something very cool about the fact that an entire second city lies hidden beneath the surface and is connected by trains you don’t see above. It’s amazing to watch hordes of commuters, students, and families pouring into and out of the ground like ants. And when you are down there, waiting at the platform – there are the vending machines. Ten types of hot coffee, plenty of cold drinks, snacks you’ve never heard of, things that look sort of familiar but taste completely different.
There are thirteen lines and the entire subway system provides more than 8 million trips per day!The system serves not just Seoul but also the surrounding areas of Incheon, Gyenggi-ddo, Gangwan-do, and Chungceongnam-do. There is nearly a thousand kilometers of track in the system and 70% + of it is underground.
Every station has restrooms that are clean and immaculate and in some cases incredibly ornate. Seriously, I went in one and felt like I was in the restroom at a five star hotel. In addition, some of the stations have ‘library’ waiting rooms where you can sit and read or wait for friends. Some of them were decorated with gorgeous art and I saw a couple of carefully tended fish tanks as well.
In fact, so much of Seoul is underground that planners are also planning an underground highway system to take care of traffic problems above ground.The city plans to build 150 km of underground highways as the first phase and more to come.
So, if you go to Seoul- be sure not to miss what’s underneath your feet.
Happy Halloween! To celebrate Halloween I offer you some of the odd and scary things I have found in my travels from legendary monsters to the monsters who built concentration camps.
Tomorrow, November 1st is considered All Saints Day – it is a day when the good and righteous come back to life and assist those who are still alive. It’s an older holiday than Halloween. In ancient days, the night before this was considered an inauspicious time – the night before the saints, all manner of things dark and creepy came to haunt the earth and look for victims – especially children. To hide the children from these monsters and spirits, parents would dress them up to hide them in plain site. But that wasn’t all- the spirits and ghoulies would wander the earth looking for victims and sometimes would appear at a door – to appease them, the residents would offer treats and thus avoid the tricks of the wicked (since we all know that the wicked generally have a sweet tooth) – since the kids were disguised as goblins and ghosts too – they began to ask for the treat to avoid the trick too – thus Trick or Treat!
To celebrate Halloween, here is another monster story, but this one with a twist – it’s a mummy love story. I first shared this back in 2011. Enjoy!
When you travel the world you come across wonderful things, but some of them touch you more than others. The story of an ancient Korean mummy and his heartbroken wife hit me hard as I traveled and thought of my wife at home, pregnant with our first child. My own journey here was very random as I had come to Andong with no idea of what to do or see and when the bus passed by Andong National University, I figured it was a good place to wander around since Universities tend to have free libraries, galleries, cheap food, and interesting people who speak English.
It was my good luck to find the free archeology museum where the Andong mummy lives so that I could discover this story. It’s a famous story by now, but maybe you haven’t heard of it yet. Everyone in Korea knows it though and when the mummy was found and the letter with it was read, it touched hearts around the world. On this day, it touched my own.
The 16th century mummy was found by archeologists in Andong City and identified by researchers at the Andong National University as Eung-tae, a member of the very ancient Goseong Yi Clan. Eung-tae was in a wooden coffin in a earth hardened tomb. The archeologists were very excited to have found a male mummy, not a common thing in South Korea. His beard and clothing were still preserved and they found that he was fairly tall at five feet nine inches, which even today in Korea would put him above the average. On his chest, much to their surprise, they found a letter from his wife, which is actually how his identity was revealed.
The letter was heart-breaking and over the next few years led to novels, films, and even an opera. Here is the text of the letter translated to English:
To Won’s Father
June 1, 1586
You always said, “Darling, let’s live together until our hair turns gray and die on the same day. How could you pass away without me? Who should I and our little boy listen to and how should we live without you? How could you die before of me?
How did you bring your heart to me and how did I bring my heart to you? Whenever we lay down together you always told me, “Dear, do other people cherish and love each other like we do? Are they really like us?” How could you leave all that behind and die ahead of me?
I cannot live without you. I want to go to you. Please take me to where you are. My feelings toward you I cannot forget in this world and my sorrow knows no limit. Where can I put my heart now and how can I live with your child missing you?
Please look at this letter and tell me in detail in my dreams. I want to listen to your words in detail in my dreams and so I write this letter and put it in with you. Look closely and talk to me.
When I give birth to the child in me, who should it call father? Can anyone fathom how I feel? There is no tragedy like this under the sky.
You are in another place, and not in such deep grief as I. There is no limit and end to my sorrows and so I write roughly. Please look closely at this letter and come to me in my dreams and show yourself in detail and tell me. I believe I can see you in my dreams. Come to me secretly and show yourself. There is no limit to what I want to say but I stop here.
The letter and the mummy made me suddenly aware of the risks I was taking by traveling and being away from my wife and the child she carries. It was at that moment, that I just wanted to go home, to be with her. From there forward, my journey held no joy for me. Certainly I met wonderful people, saw interesting things, and yes, I enjoyed myself, but my heart was no longer in it. I just kept thinking of this woman, weeping upon learning the death of her husband, weeping as her child was born, and struggling through life as a single mom and without the man she had come to depend on.
Perhaps it was for this reason that I didn’t have a desire to take any great risks, to test the limits of my endurance, or to push the limits of my already very limited budget. It would be several months before I would be able to permanently be at home with my wife and our unborn child, but upon meeting the mummy, I made a promise that I would make certain to be there for them. And so, from Andong to Busan, back to Seoul, back to Kuala Lumpur, to Singapore, Jakarta, and back to Turkey I walked carefully and kept in mind that there were two people waiting for me and relying on me. And now, I am home- back in Morocco with my wife and our child will be coming in a month or so. Suddenly, I can relax and much of the tension I felt while away has melted since I know that my wife and child have me with them at this very important time.
Here’s a fun video I put together that hits some of the video I shot on my travels during 2009-2012 in Serbia, South Korea, England, Germany, Spain, Italy, France, Turkey, Egypt, and a whole bunch of other places – I wasn’t real sure what to do with these so I proudly present to you – Vagobond Travel Dramatic. Please be sure to subscribe to my You Tube Channel. I’ve had several people ask me who the singer is that is just chilling out next to the Thames and grooving – I have no idea, but I enjoyed his impromptu show. He could be someone very famous for all I know…
In any event, I can say that I travel because I’m always looking for deals and because I’m lucky, for example I won the round-trip ticket from Malaysia to South Korea and I sometimes find bargains that others miss. I’m not some guy who inherited money, I don’t have a trust fund, I’m not a wall street banker and point blank – I don’t have a ton of money, I support my wife and daughter in a comfortable lifestyle (sometimes bringing them with me) and while I work a lot, I don’t have a boss.
While there are many lifestyle and travel choices involved in how and why I am able to travel as much as I do, one of the biggest factors in my being able to travel is living in the age of budget airlines. I’m like everyone else, I carp about the bad service, the uncomfortable seats, the charges for every little thing and the feeling of being cattle – but at the same time – I’m always aware of the magic pointed out by some comedian that I’m able to ‘sit in a chair and fly through the air’ and I can do it without actually spending very much money at all.In fact, I usually spend less to fly to another country than my countrymen spend on a Greyhound bus ticket between two neighboring towns.
Think I’m lying? A Greyhound bus ticket from Bellingham, Washington to Seattle, Washington will cost you $22.50 – I flew from Volos, Greece to Milan, Italy for $18 U.S. I flew from Milan, Italy to Tangier, Morocco for another $18! That’s three countries and two continents for 30% more than it costs to go 90 miles by bus in the USA.
Okay, I admit, the fares aren’t always that good but sometimes they are even better. I flew from Brussels, Belgium to Fez, Morocco for $1! And it’s not just Europe and North Africa – recently AirAsia had $10 fares from Kuala Lumpur to Australia or South Korea!
So, to answer my own question. Yes, budget airlines are definitely worth it. This year I’ve flown with several budget airlines: Air Arabia, WizzAir, Pegasus, Onur Air, Air Asia, Air Asia X, and of course RyanAir.
How do they stack up to other airlines? The truth is that most U.S. Airlines I’ve flown with (except for Virgin America, Hawaiian Airlines, and AlaskaAirlines – don’t give much better service or more comfortable seats. And the prices? Forget about getting anything for under $200 US unless you are flying from cities in the same state or to Vegas from California…it just doesn’t happen very often.
As for international airlines – well if you fly with Turkish Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Thai Airlines or just about any other Asian carrier – you will be treated with respect, get great service, and have great amenities. You end up paying four to ten times the price of a budget airline, but in this case – especially for real long flights, the extra expense might be worth it. Unless, you are on a super duper budget in which case you might want to go budget all the way.
You can fly from the UK to Morocco with Ryan Air for less than $100, then fly from Morocco to Turkey for about $200 using Air Arabia (or alternatively you could fly from Morocco to Spain, France, Italy or Belgium with Easy Jet and then take a Pegasus flight to Turkey for less than $100 each). From Turkey you can fly with Air Arabia to the middle east or Egypt for next to nothing and then you can fly to India for another next to nothing. Then from India you can go with Air Asia to Asia, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan or more. I’m not sure if South America has budget airlines but from what I can tell, North America doesn’t though in Hawaii you can island hop with Go Airlines for less than $100 each leg.
But I have to admit – flying Malaysia Airlines earlier this year was incredible. No extra charges, great food, beautiful flight attendants, great service, free drinks and free in flight entertainment.
If I had the money, I’d never fly with budget airlines again – but as it stands now – I’ll probably be on another Ryan Air flight before the year is done. At least I hope so!
I haven’t been to Korea since 2012, so things may have changed, but during my first trip there – this was my experience with love motels.
If you’ve been to Korea, you know exactly what I’m talking about. In South Korea there are hotels which are generally pretty expensive, then there are hostels (in bigger cities) which are essentially dormitories and there are motels, also known as ‘Love Motels’ since these are where couples go for romantic weekends, where johns bring hookers, and where budget minded travelers can stay cheaper than the hotels when the hostels aren’t available or you don’t want to stay in a hostel. Another option which is worth exploring is staying at a Korean bath house – seriously.
My first love motel came after the Penis Park and crossing the DMZ in Sokcho to be honest, at this point, I had no idea that Motel in South Korea really means love motel where you can take your woman, park your car, and enjoy sweet love. Or you can arrange to have some love brought to you with the hotel.
All I knew was that for 40,000 Won, I was staying in a big fancy room that not only provided soap, but cologne, toothpaste, a toothbrush, a razor, a big plasma televison, a king size bed, a computer, and a big fancy bathroom. After the rigours of the Penis Park it was good to have a deluxe place to relax.
It was only later when I went to Andong and met a teacher there, that I learned about the distinctions in lodging. He explained to me that in Busan, where I was heading next, it was cheapest to stay in the love motels. When I asked what they were, he gave me the details above.
Whereas in Samcheok, it wasn’t obvious to an innocent like me that I was staying in a den of sin, in Busan, it was far too obvious and I walked away from more than one place that had sheets that held pubic hair, the smell of semen heavy in the room, or in a few cases rooms that I thought were cheap only to learn that the price was per six hour period. Even I was able to figure that one out.
I stayed in a total of three love motels in Busan which were cheaper than the hostels but loud with the fucking of guests on all sides. In each one, I was given a pouch with a toothbrush, razor, and of course the rooms had cologne and mouthwash. None of them lived up to my first love motel though. That one was special.
I like the love motels actually, they are over the top and bizarre. Some of them have amazing themed designs, they have semi dirty films in the rooms, in a couple of them the ladies of the house offered to fetch me some ‘boom boom’ and one I stayed at the lady who managed it was particularly insistant. “I get you Russian girl, okay?” “You want boom boom with Korean?” “You like I get you Swedish?” “Maybe you like boom boom with Filipina?”
Despite the attractive sounding menu (60,000 Won for the night or 30,000 Won for an hour), I wasn’t feeling like ‘boom boom’ was a particularly good idea and so I said no. The room, however was just 35,000 won which was a great value in Busan where a hostel dorm bed was 40-50,000.
The next day, I left the boom boom hotel to look for someplace a little quieter and met an Indian girl named Birgida who was also looking for a cheap love motel, we searched long and hard in the Hondae Beach area but the best price there was 40,000 unless you wanted to smell the sperm of the last resident. The extra money in this case was well spent.
My last love motel was the worst one. It was 45,000 and the door didn’t actually lock! While the room was nice and the sheets were clean, the amount of boom boom going on was utterly mind blowing. Korean people don’t show affection on the streets but when they get in the love motels…wow.
I made this trip back in 2012…it seems like it was aeons ago. I considered finding a way into North Korea, but at the time it was beyond my budget in both time and money and I had a new child at home and was just learning what it feels like to have another human completely dependent on your choices – so I opted to go to the less visited DMZ in Sokcho, South Korea. This was after my first trip to Seoul and before my trips to the Penis Park in Samcheok and Busan in the South.
I should start out with a rather silly confession. When I was a pre-teen there were two shows I watched I Love Lucy, Gilligan’s Island, Little House on the Prarie, and M.A.S.H. I can still tell you the names of every character on each show and outline the plots of nearly every episode even though it’s been more than 25 years since I would watch those shows after school and before bedtime. For those who don’t remember the shows, Little House on the Prarie was the story of the Ingles family as they homesteaded on the Great Plains in the 1800s, Gilligan’s Island was about a group of castaways from a Hawaii sailing tour, I Love Lucy was about a funny lady from the 1950s, and M.A.S.H. was the story of the U.S. Army 4077th Mobile Surgical Unit during the Korean War.
Don’t worry, this post has nothing to do with most of those shows (though my psychological makeup probably has a lot to do with the show) and not much to do with M.A.S.H. aside from the fact that every preconception I had about South Korea, North Korea, or all of Korea was pretty much based on an American TV show made in the 1970s about a war that took place in the 1950s. This is probably the reason I was so surprised to find an ultra-modern nation rather than rice paddies and water buffalo as I had subconsciously been expecting.
In any event, since the Korean War had played such a large part in my childhood development through M.A.S.H, I knew that I would pay a visit to the DMZ that sits between North and South Korea. DMZ stands for Demilitarized Zone and is an area where it is prohibited to have weapons, armies, or military facilities. The two Koreas are technically still at war but they signed an armistice back on July 27, 1953. The Korean DMZ is a 248 km long and 4 km wide (155 x 2.5 miles) swath of land that runs between Kim Jong Ils wacky North Korean regime and the ultra modern South Korean industrial state. This is the world’s largest DMZ and it has been active for more than 50 years now. The amazing thing about the DMZ is that since no humans have been in it for most of the time it has existed, nature has almost fully recovered and it is filled with wildlife, forests, and more despite once being ruined by the horrors of war.
So, I wanted to visit the DMZ. I was going to go to the DMZ from Seoul but when I saw glossy tourist brochures and realized it would mean riding a bus with a tour guide and then taking an escorted walk into the (Panmunjan) area before getting on the bus again for an awful tourist lunch, I decided that there had to be a better way. I figured I would find it even though when I asked in Seoul, nearly everyone told me that this was the only way to see the DMZ.
In Sokcho, I looked at the maps and realized that I was actually closer to the DMZ than I had been in Seoul. I asked the proprietor of the guest house about it and he told me that if I took the number one bus to the end, then hitch hiked, I would be able to get to the DMZ and the Unification Observatory in Gangwan-do. From Sokcho I would go to Goseong and then onwards by thumb past Hwa-jin-Po Beach and finally, I would have to walk a bit and I would be at the Unification Observatory which sits on the South Korean Side of the DMZ and overlooks the mountainous coastline heading up the North Korean coastline.
Of course, I wanted to visit North Korea since I had been fairly interested in Kim Jong Ill and his wacked out claims to have invented the toaster, shot 18 holes in one in a round of golf, and of course his prolific movie making, opera writing, and novel penning which defies human capacity. The problem is that to go to North Korea is way more money than I could possibly afford. This was probably as close as I’d get. I was nervous about hitching to North Korea, I thought about trying to find cheap car hire, but ultimately the idea of hitching appealed to me, so I decided to go for it anyway. This might be my only chance to see it before it disappeared in a cloud of nuclear smoke.
I got on the number 1 bus and rode it to the end of the line at Goseong. From there I got out and stuck out my thumb and a father and daughter picked me up. They didn’t speak any English but they understood that I was heading to the DMZ. They took me up the coast through the concrete tank traps and along the barb wired Hwa-jin-Po-Beach where they dropped me off and I walked along the cold winter shoreline which was lined with barbed wire every inch of it’s beautiful length. Since the two countries are still at war, this is to protect against invasion, though in the summer months they open up the barbed wire gates to allow families to enjoy the gorgeous sand and shoreline. In fact, during the active war, this part was under North Korean control and Kim Il Sung used to bring his rotund son Kim Jong Il to play on these very shores.
From there, I caught a ride with two guys who were taking a weekend leave from their military duty and had driven overnight to come up and see the DMZ. These Korean soldiers were big guys, much taller than me and even though we didn’t have any language in common we ended up having a fun day together going through checkpoints, climbing to the Unification Observatory, and walking through the Gangwon-do DMZ museum.
At the observatory, we looked out over Mt. Geomgangsan and Heageumgang. Gangwon-do is the only divided province in the country with half belonging to the North and half belonging to the South. Looking at North Korea to the north there were mountains, coastline, and an empty road leading into the distance. Not a human soul in sight. And I might add that there were three other visitors at the DMZ observatory and they were all Korean. No tourists except me sandwiched between my new Korean soldier friends.
We had a light lunch of wet noodle fish kabobs dipped in sauce at the small restaurant at the observatory and one of the Korean soldiers bought a souvenir scarf which he then surprised me by presenting to me as a gift. It was a sort of traditional paisley pattern orange bandana with a map of the area of Gongwan-do showing North Korea, South Korea, and DMZ plus the towns that exist. No towns exists in the DMZ and to the North they are hidden in the folds of the incredible mountains.
Our final stop of the day was the DMZ Museum which is the only DMZ museum in the world. The museum presented a history of the Korean war, the separation of the country, the creation of the DMZ, and the hopes for peace and unification some day. There was something very special about going through this museum with my new soldier friends and each of us writing our wishes for peace on the leaves of the peace trees inside. The museum detailed the entire DMZ, had a large collection of relics from the active part of the war in the 1950’s, as well as lots of information about North Korean attempts to tunnel under the DMZ, infiltrate beaches with mini submarines, and sabotage the South Korean government with spies.
The tunneling in particular is amazing since these weren’t like mineshafts but more like underground highways being carved out to move huge numbers of troops, armor, and equipment. From the DMZ and the world under Seoul, I can see one thing…Koreans love to dig tunnels. If this were middle earth, the Koreans would be the dwarves, though I was certainly the dwarf next to my tall new friends.
Grand total for the day was about 15000 won or $15 U.S. versus the nearly $100 a tourist trip from Seoul would have cost. So, I saved $85, made some new friends, had a unique experience, and didn’t have to ride a bus with a bunch of annoying blue haired baby boomers. All told, this day was a huge success.
As a bonus, I guess I could combine my childhood TV with my experience and write a new series called “Little House on the DMZ”. At the end of the day, my friends dropped me off in Sokcho and headed back to their base while I suddenly had a new understanding about Korea, the Korean War, and the DMZ. I still hoped that at some point I would see a rice paddy or a water buffalo though…
On my first trip to South Korea, back in 2012, I found many wonders. I disocvered the joys of the Penis Park and the value of Love Motels as well as visiting the DMZ and exploring Seoul, Busan, and Samcheok. All of that was spectacular, but the thing I loved most were the Korean bathhouses , jjimjilbang.
My favorite thing about Korea is the jinjabongs. I know, best is a word that one shouldn’t really use when writing about world travel since it’s such a subjective word, but here it applies. Korea is filled with wonderful things but the jingabongs (or jjimjilbangs) are the most wonderful.
So, what are they? Well, unlike Hamams in Morocco or Turkey, these are not just places for bathing and massage. These are full blown social zones. The thrid place extraordinaire. As you can see, I’ve become a bit of a bathhouse aficionado (okay, how gay does that sound?) and I found these to be without compare.
So, once again, what is a jingabong? Okay, it is a bathing place, and it’s a place you can get a massage…and more. Let me just describe the process. I didn’t take any pictures but found a few on the web to show you. Plus, a Vagobond reader provided these links which are the jjimjilbang I went to in Hondae http://www.vesta.co.kr/ and the other in the area which is the www.hotelnongshim.com/.
For usually less than 10 Euros you can check into a jingabong for 12-16 hours. They are open 24 hours. When you check in they will give you jingabong clothes. Usually simple shorts and blouse, sometimes colored white for me and pink for women. You will also be given a locker key. Go in, take of your shoes, find your locker, grab a towel, and take off all your clothes (no room for modesty here, but I should point out that the locker and bath rooms are segregated by sex.)
Once you are nude along with all the other guys or girls, head into the bath room. First of all, you should make sure to shower in the stalls first. No one wants to share a bath with the backpacker grime that has accumulated all over you. After washing, you have a choice of a number of tubs ranging from cold to very very hot.
Jump in, soak, try not to be bothered by the fact that you are the hairiest person anyone there has ever seen. In fact, aside from there being tubs and steam rooms, an assortment of yellowmud, pine, charcoal, or salt saunas, a cold room and an oxygen room and a few special rooms where you can choose to get a massage, it’s not so different from locker rooms all over the world. So, that’s it?
Nope. This is where it gets really cool. You finish your bath and maybe you chill out in the massage chairs or get some electrolyte drinks from the vending machine. Then you throw on your ‘jingabong clothes’ and lock your stuff up in your locker. Don’t forget to bring money with you, you’ll want it.
You will now enter the area where the sexes meet. You’ll find that there are mats and pillows, plenty of space to lie down on the floor, multiple TV rooms, extensive manga libraries, video games, a restaurant, more massage areas, private rooms, and excercise areas just for men and for women. So, you can grab a meal, enjoy some tea, grab a mat and take a nap….
In fact, you can have a beer, go to the cinema room, go to the smoking room, or do just about anything you can do in the outside world but in a nice, safe, quiet little cave complex where stress seems to disappear. You can nap (but do be careful of your key while you nap since your valuables are presumably in your locker.)
Wait a minute…if it’s open 24 hours and you can shower, sleep, stash your things in a locker, drink, and eat there and you are allowed to stay there 12 hours or more, why don’t people use it as a hotel?
Ah-ha! Now you have it. Show up at night, have a nice shower and a relaxing bath, enjoy dinner, watch some television, lay down on a mat, sleep, and wake up for another shower in the morning. In fact, the facilities are better than most hostels or one or two star hotels and you are paying around $10. Not to mention the food is good, it’s easy to make friends, and you leave feeling completely refreshed.
My only regret is that I didn’t discover jingabongs until near the end of my time in South Korea. I should have avoided most of the time I stayed in hostels or love motels and just stayed in the jingabong. In Busan, there is even a view of the sea from the baths of the jingabong.
I love jingabongs. In fact, I love all kinds of bath houses. I can’t believe I just said that….
In 2012 – I took a short trip to South Korea. I’d never been there and I wanted to see as much as possible in a short amount of time…I didn’t expect to see this much….
South Korea can be a surprising place – it is a fairly conservative culture but not in every way. For example, you can pay a visit to Haesindang Park (Penis Park) in Samcheok, South Korea.
When I heard about this, I realized I would have to go there. Why? Because it defied my North American imagination that a place like this could even exist..
The legend says that a young couple were engaged to be married in the fishing village of Samcheok. Before they could be wed and before pleasure of the penis on the wedding night, she was swept to sea and drowned, thus dying a virgin and without the penis she so desired.
After her death, the seas around the village stopped yielding fish. No one could figure out why, but one night, a drunk fisherman took a leak facing the water, thus exposing his sizable genitalia to the water (and presumably to the ghost of the virgin). Apparently, she liked what she saw and after that the fish were plentiful. The villagers, understanding intuitively what they needed to do, began exposing themselves regularly and then they began to build larger than life statues of giant cocks to satisfy the nymphomaniac ghost. Over the years, the collection of phallic art was expandend and enlarged and the seashore became swollen with dicks.
Getting there was a bit tricky. I took the bus from Sokcho and then a second bus from another town and a third bus to get to Samcheok. I was sitting next to a very pretty woman in designer sunglasses and I asked her if she knew how to get to the Penis Park. Fortunately, she spoke some English. She said yes, she knew. She told me which stop to get off in Samcheok and then she suggested we get a cup of coffee and wait for her friend who would be able to better tell me how to get there. Soon a second girl showed up and her English was even better. They told me just to sit and wait. Fifteen minutes later a man in a minivan showed up, he was girl #2’s father. The three of us piled into his mini-van and we all headed to the Penis Park on one of the strangest family outings I’ve ever been on. A father, his daughter, her friend, and a strange American man they all just met on the bus and off we went to the Penis Park.
Rather than being filled with gay pickup artists, the park was filled with Korean senior citizens all posing next to the giant phalluses (or on them) and enjoying the scenic beauty of the rocky seashore and the huge collection of giant anthrpomorphic cocks. The father insisted on paying my admission and we all posed together for pictures with the many penises.
At the edge of the park we ate the flat, dried fish which the old women were cooking there. After that since they knew I needed a place to stay, the father dropped me off at his favorite love motel – a topic which I will write about in another post.
And that, my friends, was my wonderful day at the Penis Park in Samcheok, South Korea. Below are some further details and a few more photos to motivate you in case you get the chance to visit. I highly recommend it.
Haesindang Park (more commonly – and creatively – known among Westerners as ‘The Penis Park’) is around 20km (12 miles) from the centre of Samcheok, and is, as the name would suggest, a park full of penises!!!
Entry Fee – this was small, around 2,000 won. There is a ticket desk at the entrance, which also displays a return bus schedule in it’s window. It’s worth having a look to see what your options are for buses back to Samcheok. The stop is right by the road, you’ll see it when you come in.
Phone – 033-570-3568 (for the Korean-speaking Fishery Village Tradition Exhibition Centre)
Getting There – A frequent 50 minute bus will easily take you to the park from the Samcheok Express Bus Terminal. Ask for Haesingdang Park at the ticket window, and they will know what you’re talking about! Come out of the door that they will point you to, and turn right. You’ll see a little bus stop. Just wait there until the bus is scheduled to come. When we went, the bus didn’t actually come over to the bus stop – it just stopped in the middle of the concourse, and everyone walked over to board it. You may need to just check with the driver that you have the right bus, before getting on, especially if you can’t read Hangeul. Let the driver know that you are getting off at the park, and he’ll be sure to make a commotion about your stop when he comes to it at the side of the highway. (In terms of landmarks, the stop is just past the small park dedicated to local Olympian Hwang Young-Cho, who won the marathon event in both the 1992 Summer Olympics and 1994 Asian Games.) The drive itself is lovely, and you will see some great scenery and coastline. If you go at the right time of year, you will also pass the famous yellow rapeseed fields, and see people posing for photographs amongst rapeseed almost as tall as themselves! You can get off the bus here too if you so desire.